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38, Opposing

Hexagram 38 is called ‘Opposition’: it means things that are separated, strange, and staring at things. It has to do with whatever is strange and different, and with seeing things in a different way.

Its pair is Hexagram 37, People in the Home. The contrast between the two in the Zagua is very simple:

‘Opposition: outside. People in the home: inside.’

This hexagram pair makes it clearer than most that we’re looking at two perspectives on a single landscape. There is a home: you can be inside, or outside. The authors of the Sequence seem to understand that we might be each in turn:

‘When the dao of the home is exhausted, you necessarily turn away, and so Opposition follows.’

There’s a time or a way of defining ourselves as part of the group, when we can be completely ourselves, safely contained within the home space. And also there’s a time or a way when this dao is exhausted and we need to differentiate ourselves.

Hexagram 38 has come from ‘I’m one of us’ to ‘I’m not the same as you.’ It means being outside and seeing from the outside: societies need this visionary perspective from time to time, and so do individuals. So receiving this hexagram should alert you to the balance of inside and outside: how people need time away from relationships; the need for innovative ideas as well as compatible ones.

The old Chinese character for ‘opposition’ shows eyes and a grass offering mat for pouring libations. The offering mat character is the name of the tenth and last celestial stem. LiSe says:

“The day of gui was the day when the prognostications were made for the next period of 10 days, and it was a kind of Sunday, no hard labor or expeditions and such.”

So Hexagram 38 is ‘gui-day vision’: a day for stepping outside the normal round of activity and seeing differently – looking at the same things as usual, but seeing beyond them.

As a way of ‘seeing differently’, Hexagram 38 can be a vision of radically different possibilities: for instance, the state of mind of someone who contemplates leaving his very normal office job to become a self-employed healer.

It’s also simply the experience of difference, and how different worlds are visible to different ways of seeing. A good example of this is how Western and Chinese medical systems see the body differently, so disorders visible to one are invisible to the other. And we’ve probably all had the experience of trying to convey a vivid spiritual insight to someone who couldn’t see it at all.

This is a gaping, irreducible difference; it shouldn’t be underestimated, and we shouldn’t imagine it can be somehow compromised away. A relationship characterised by Hexagram 38 is always going to have those moments when the other person seems to come from another planet. An inner state of Hexagram 38 is likely to be an extreme experience of being pulled between two mutually exclusive visions, or mutually contradictory desires. The component trigrams of Opposition, lake and fire, are two ‘daughter’ trigrams who are said naturally to move apart:

‘Two daughters live in harmony; their wills do not move in harmony.’

An inner state of Opposition often feels exactly like this.

So how to deal with Opposition? The Judgement says:

‘Opposing.
Small affairs, good fortune.’

Why only small affairs? Partly because you need co-operation and people who see eye to eye to handle great affairs. Naturally, with people pulling in opposite directions, you should scale down your ambitions. However, Yi doesn’t merely say that Opposition ‘does not allow great affairs’; it’s not just that this is the best you can manage. It specifically promises that the combination of Opposition and small affairs means good fortune.

I think this is because sticking to the small things allows divergent visions to co-exist. The bigger the issues, the more emotional intensity is involved, and the more a different view is perceived as a threat. The need to uphold ones own vision as ‘the truth’ (or simply to establish ‘the truth’) gets mixed in with the sense of identity and survival instincts. Complete alienation and disintegration ensues.

Keeping to small affairs makes it possible to hold the two visions together without losing either one. This is the ideal the noble one seeks in the Image:

‘Fire above, lake below. Opposition.
The noble one thus both harmonises and divides.’

The noble one can’t make a compromise between fire and water; they won’t be blended. But he can hold them together, separated and harmonious, and see the new images the light makes on the water. In the same way, the two daughters can live together although their purposes diverge. (The word used in both the commentary and the Image, ‘harmony’, is the same as in the name of Hexagram 13.)

Wilhelm says of the trigrams that,

“The reason why the two daughters tend to opposition is that the eldest, whose authority would maintain order, is absent.”

That is, the trigrams dui and li, lake and fire, represent the youngest and middle daughters of the family. (The eldest is xun, wind/wood.) But it’s not just that the ‘authority’ to ‘maintain order’ is missing; it’s that this hexagram is not about finding the one true vision. The aim isn’t to sort true from false and establish a definitive answer; it’s to expand the ‘home’ space to create a field where you can see in more than one way, meet with guides, ancestors and strange omens.

This multi-dimensional home has to be constantly alive and shifting – dealing with ‘small affairs’ allows us to stay flexible. The nuclear hexagram of Opposition, which in a way is its core ‘story’ and hidden demand, is 63, Already Across. ‘Beginnings, good fortune; completion, disorder’ – it’s vitally important always to treat this ‘seeing differently’ as a beginning, not to allow it to ossify into opposing camps. For a relationship characterised by Hexagram 38 to work out, for instance, there has to be constant interchange and mutual discovery – otherwise there would only be the ever-expanding gulf of difference and communication fading to silence.


Further reading from the blog:

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